Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chaosium's BRP cover less than impressive

Chaosium is releasing a new version of their Basic Role Playing system. This is the game system used in the roleplaying games RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. The new book combines all the rules from several games into one volume, and it's intended to be used as a generic system.

Now, I'm a fan of BRP. The system is a little long in the tooth right now, but it's a clean system and I know it very well. Even still, I'm a little trepidacious about this volume. The automatic weapon rules are the same as found in Call of Cthulhu, which is unfortunate as they are a bit broken. Also, though there are advantage/disadvantage rules for super powers, the playtesters vetoed such rules for other settings. In other words, this is not a rewriting or retooling of the game system, it's a compilation. The automatic weapon rules, in particular, worry me because the fact they made it untouched from Call of Cthulhu tells me that they were never properly playtested, and makes me worry about the usability of the rules in a modern setting.

(Yes, I have used them for modern Call of Cthulhu games, which is why I know they have problems, and why I wrote my own house rules.)

Still, I like the game system and think it would work very well as a generic system. I'm looking forward to seeing it published (even if it means yet another book produced by Chaosium that's little more than a reprint).

I hope the game sells well. It's an "old school" game system, but it's pretty elegant. Thus, I guess the intention of the proposed cover is to reflect it's generic nature, show it's flexibility, but also draw a link to the past. Unfortunately for Chaosium, the proposed cover doesn't get much love on the RPG.net site. Besides the obvious artistic issues of perspective and scale, the cover simply isn't that inspiring. I don't see anything on the cover that makes me think, "Yeah, I want to game that". Apparently most of the folks that participated on the RPG.net thread agreed.

I'll let you decide for yourself. Here's the cover:

"Portraits of America" includes Canadian landmark

No additional comment necessary:

Video claims Horseshoe Falls for U.S.

Oct 29, 2007 04:30 AM
Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON–The Bush administration appears to have annexed a major Canadian landmark as part of a slick new campaign to promote U.S. tourism.

A Disney-produced promotional video released last week by the departments of State and Homeland Security highlights majestic American landscapes, from New England's colourful fall foliage and the Grand Canyon to the Rocky Mountains and Hawaii's pounding surf.

But about four minutes into the seven-minute video, Welcome: Portraits of America, viewers are treated to the impressive sight and sound of water roaring over Niagara Falls.

In showing the natural wonder, Disney's filmmakers, however, chose the Horseshoe Falls, the only one of Niagara's three waterfalls to lie almost entirely on the Canadian side of the border separating New York State from Ontario.

Making matters worse, a visitor to the U.S. would not even be able to get the same view of the falls in the video because the scene was shot from a vantage point in Canada, according to Paul Gromosiak, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., historian and author.

Also, he said the video leaves out the two cascades that actually are on U.S. territory, the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

"This is not the United States, this is 100 per cent Canada, shot from the Canadian side," Gromosiak said. "This is an insult.''

The distinction between the U.S. and Canadian sides is clear to most people who have visited the Falls.

But it seems to have escaped the notice of the producers and U.S. officials, who presumably vetted the video.

In a separate "making of" video, Jay Rasulo, the chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, speaks over the falls footage about the importance of showing would-be tourists "the great sites, the great vistas that they dream about all their lives when they dream about America.''

Karen Hughes, the U.S. undersecretary of state for diplomacy, said in a posting to the department's blog last week that the production has the administration's blessing.

"We're going to play it in waiting rooms and at embassy events – and we hope it will inspire many who otherwise might not have thought about travelling to America to come and see it for themselves," Hughes wrote.

Or maybe Canada.

Days of cardboard

Been too busy packing for the move to post! Up to our armpits in cardboard and packing tape. Had a yard sale on Saturday that did quite well. Alana and Logan have new bikes, as we'll be living near a park with bike paths.

Busy times!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Tragically Hip on Saturday Night Live

Alana and I were thinking, at one point, of going to see The Tragically Hip play in New Orleans this weekend. Unfortunately, it fell through for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact we're up to our eyeballs in boxes.

So, instead of going to the concert I've been listening to their music, in the car, at work, and at home.

For those who don't know, The Hip are my favourite band, and somewhat of a phenomenon in Canada, though relatively unknown outside of the country. While web surfing I was finally able to find The Hip's performance on Saturday Night Live, back on March 25, 1995. I remember this performance rather fondly. Ironically I was up to my eyeballs in boxes (preparing for a move) the weekend they played.

This was The Hip's big introduction to the U.S. market. The song is "Grace, Too", from the album Day For Night. It happens to be my favourite Hip song. I hope you enjoy it:

Video: Tragically Hip - SNL - Live

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We're Moving!

My legs still hurt, my back is a little achy, and we're up to our necks in boxes.

Yes, we're moving! Last week we put a deposit down on a new apartment. We can move into the apartment November 1, but we still have the old apartment to December 1. We expect to move in over the course of the month, with the final move over Thanksgiving weekend.

The main reason we're moving is because we're tired of the current place.

The neighbourhood has gone downhill. The school Logan goes to is pretty good, but the middle schools and the high schools in Monroe, LA don't have a good reputation. This is particularly true of Ouachita High School, which Logan would have to attend if we stayed around here. So, we knew we had to move to West Monroe, where the middle schools and the high school are much better.

We were pretty much set on moving after the air conditioning drain pipe stuck and overflowed onto our floor. This happens yearly, but the apartment manager refuses to send someone through each year to blow it out as a preventive measure. The big burner on our stove doesn't work, the door badly needs weather stripping, and our front light doesn't work (it used to, but it stopped, and yes, we did change the bulb).

So, it came down to the fact that we wanted out of the apartment and we're unlikely to move again for a long time.

The new apartment is still a two bedroom, but it's less than two years old. It has two bathrooms, and a good sized kitchen. The living room area is a bit bigger, too. It is more expensive (the current place has price going for it) but in all other ways it's much nicer.

So why do I hurt? Alana and I were at our storage locker on Saturday shifting all the boxes out, opening them, and shifting things around. We were there all day Saturday, almost literally. We left the house a bit after 8:00 a.m., and got to the locker (after breakfast) at 9:00 a.m. We were done at 7:45 p.m. I got a sunburn on my neck, and Alana on her back. It certainly didn't feel like a whole day's work. Unfortunately it also didn't feel like we had a whole weekend off...

Anyway, now our "hobby" is packing. It doesn't help that I have to go on a business trip next month, so I'm going to lose a week. I hope to have most of our stuff packed up, and even a fair bit of it over at the new place, before then.

When we get the keys to the new apartment I'll take some pictures. It will never look as clean and tidy as it does right now!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Comics get it, but the president doesn't

Get Fuzzy isn't usually this political. It's funny, though!

Get Your War On

Indy, one of the guys on the Ground Zero Games mailing list, sent a link to Get Your War On, a web comic dedicated to putting down the Bush administration.

Here's one of the strips that tickled my funny bone. Click on the picture for a bigger version:

The comic's archive is here: http://www.mnftiu.cc/mnftiu.cc/war68.html

Best steakhouse in the country?

We may have found the best steakhouse in the country. It's in LaGrange, Georgia. Take the second exit, the one by the Jameson Inn. The place is called the Conestoga Steakhouse.

We went there on our last night in LaGrange. We worked 12 hours the day before and 10 hours that day, and we were starved. We went to the Longhorn Steakhouse the first night in town and it wasn't bad, at least for a chain restaurant. The Conestoga was intriguing, so we went there on a whim.

The place is no hell to look at. It's a generic "local restaurant" built in the 60s or 70s. There is none of the original architecture common to chain restaurants. The most promising aspect of the exterior were all the cars in the parking lot.

The interior didn't instill us with much confidence. It's done in a horse stable motif. When there weren't stable flourishes, there were country kitchen bits. I seem to remember chickens on the wallpaper. There was no mood lighting, either. None of that fancy darkness except over your table. No, sir, this place was lit up like a high school football field on a Friday night.

Again, we weren't sure what we were getting into, except that the place was pretty busy with local folks. Really big local folks. The kind of local folks who require two chairs each.

The steaks were reasonably priced. All that remained was to taste them. Travis bit into his while I fixed my backed potato. He said I might not need a knife. Sure enough, I cut a piece of steak by running my knife back and forth over a few times with absolutely no pressure applied on the knife. Its own weight was enough. The stake, a rib eye, had an extraordinary taste. Succulent with the just the right seasoning. Although the steaks were large enough, I was seriously tempted to order a second!

So, if you find yourself heading east toward Atlanta along I-20, it's worth taking the extra hour by going via Montgomery, Alabama and stopping for supper in LaGrange, GA, it's that good.

Raising Cane's concept a ripoff? Say it ain't so!

Last month I trained a client in LaGrange, Georgia, about 15 miles east of the Alabama border and an hour from Atlanta. It was the most fun I've had on a business trip, largely due to the company. Travis — one of my "peeps" — attended with me, so that he could see what it was like to train someone in person. It turned out that we have an amazing amount of stuff in common. As an example, during the eight hour drive home — and half hour lunch break — we didn't bother turning on the radio once. We just yapped the whole way.

Anyway, one of the first restaurants we saw was a place called Zaxby's. When we first saw it, we thought, "Gee, that looks just like Raising Cane's." Raising Cane's is a chicken finger franchise that started in Baton Rouge in 1996. They serve chicken fingers as their main entree, and that's it. Alana and I went nuts for it when the first opened a store in West Monroe, and we got Jimmy and Jason hooked on it soon after. Recently, though, there's been a serious drop in our interest for Raising Cane's. I'm not sure why. I had it last Friday and enjoyed it, but Alana has gone almost completely off it. Jimmy and Jason aren't as interested, either. I think maybe we just OD'd on it.

So, we entered Zaxby's. That's when we discovered that it was almost exactly like Raising Cane's! Well, okay, we didn't realize this at first. Zaxby's has a wider range of menu items (mostly featuring chicken). The decor in Zaxby's was a modern interpretation of the 1920s and 1930s, while Raising Cane's is a post-modern interpretation of a 1950s diner. And, of course, Cane's ony does chicken fingers.

We ordered a chicken strip dinner, the same thing we would order at Raising Cane's. This is when we noticed some startling similarities:

  • Cane's gives you three our four battered chicken fingers made from white breast meat. Unlike KFC, the chicken isn't greasy. Zaxby's gives you the same thing, only the pieces are smaller but you get one additional piece.

  • Both serve crinkle cut.

  • Both serve their own special form of mayonnaise-based sauce. Zaxby's is mass produced and comes in packaged containers. Cane's is served in clear plastic cups with lids, suggesting that they are at least packaged at each store.

  • Both serve Texas toast with the meal.

  • Both serve coleslaw, which you can substitute for extra fries.

  • Both dispense ketchup into small paper cups. In both cases, the ketchup is on tap with the dispenser built into the surface of the counter top.

  • Both dispense crushed ice instead of ice cubes.

The comparisons were beyond eerie. It was quite clear that someone had ripped off someone else. I mean, it couldn't be co-incidence that the both had crinkle cut fries and crushed ice and Texas toast and their own special type of mayonnaise-based sauce.

I did some checking. Raising Cane's was founded in 1997. Zaxby's, which even has its own NASCAR car, was founded in 1990. Oops! It looks like Raising Cane's is a direct steal from Zaxby's (though, perhaps, with the added wrinkle that they would only specialize in chicken fingers).

What's the verdict on taste? The sauce was no contest. Cane's sauce is better, though it wasn't like Zaxby's was inedible or anything. The chicken was a little less obvious. At first I gave Cane's the win. Their fingers are bigger, a little juicier, and seemed a little less crispy. However, we ate at Zaxby's twice that week, while I can't do Cane's more than a couple of times a month (and we went from monthly with our roleplaying game group to maybe once every four or six months). Zaxby's chicken fingers seem to sit lighter in the tummy.

So, overall — and though I hate to do it — I would have to give Zaxby's a slight nod. I can see how some folks would prefer Cane's chicken, but it can't be just coincidence that four of us have taken less of a shine to them in recent months. Added to my disappointment that Raising Cane's is not as original as I thought they were, our estimation of the chain has dropped a bit since those heady days of two years ago when they first opened in West Monroe.

News roundup

While I was busy writing, a whole bunch of blog-worthy stuff happened that I had to ignore.

Locally, there was the Jena 6 protest in Jena (pronounced "JEE-na"), Louisiana. Not much to add at this late date, other than to say that there as a whole lot of anti-black paranoia among locals. One person at work asked if we were "ready for the looting". Apparently white Jena residents ran out of town, afraid of what would happen. (The protests were mostly peaceful.)

I'm of two minds on the attack myself. On the one hand, it seems that the local justice system treated various incidents too lightly until it looked like a race war was developing, at which point they treated the next incident severely, an incident that just happened to include black kids. On the other hand, inequality doesn't justify six kids beating up another kid. On the other, other hand, what's the point of having one set of laws for kids and another set for adults when you choose to try kids as adults seemingly on a whim?

The biggest issue is that the actual events of the affair is not well known, largely due to the filters applied by the people repeating the story. The Jena 6 are not the martyrs that is now being portrayed. The local portrayal (which I've seen on news sites and in the office) that this is another "O.J." (i.e. blacks playing the race card to get away with a crime) is very wrong, and just masks the general level of racism that's common in northeast Louisiana.

The best account of the incidents is this article from the Associated Press:

On the national level, Alberto Gonzales quit. I'm actually surprised at this. I didn't think Gonzales would remember how to write a resignation letter.

On the international level, the Canadian dollar is now trading at a higher level than the U.S. dollar.

First, the serioius part. The fact that the Canadian dollar is worth more than the U.S. dollar is not readily understood by Americans. Part of the reason for the higher Canadian dollar is a need for Canadian dollars to purchase Canadian oil. Another reason is because problems with the U.S. economy mean that outside investors no longer think the U.S. is quite as good a place in which to invest. Gee, you think maybe giving tax cuts to the rich while paying for an expensive and unnecessary war, and the resulting explosion in the deficit, isn't a good idea?

On a less serious note, I am now officially accepting apologies from all those Americans who made fun of the 65¢ Canadian dollar a few years ago. Please post your apologies here. No, it's okay, I'll wait...

There were other items, but I'm too tired from watching the Grand Prix of China (and despondent over Lewis Hamilton's big mistake that stopped him from finishing and might just have cost him the Formula One championship) to go into them right now.

He's alive!

Howdy, folks!

Yep, I'm alive and kicking!

I finished the manuscript for This Favored Land, the American Civil War supplement for the Wild Talents roleplaying game last week. I was technically late, getting it in about 12:30 a.m. on October 2 (it was due October 1), but everything was cool.

I wish I had about another two weeks to work on it. I didn't have the time to sit back and not think about it for a week and then go back and edit it. I know it will need some editing, maybe some substatinal editing. On the other hand, Alana said to just forget about it for a while. She realizes I'm second guessing myself.

I wish I had another 10,000 words. I had to strip out some good stuff that I wanted to leave in. I didn't get a chance to write a couple of things I wanted to include, such as what it was like to be a sailor during the Civil War. There were a couple of really cool bits, like the loading procedure for cap and ball pistols, that I had to strip out for space reasons.

I'm sure the manuscript will require some heavy editing. I was writing it in a vaccuum, as far as what the publisher wanted. Did I focus too much on the backgrounds of the four groups I created? Was there too much information about life as a soldier? Is the adventure good enough for inclusion, or should it be scrapped?

The adventure was the hardest part to write, which was surprising. I realized part way through testing that my home-grown scenarios are designed with my group's characters in mind. Writing a generic scenario isn't easy. The location is pretty interesting (Missouri), but it's not where I would set a long term campaign of my own, which would either be set in New Orleans, or as a spy campaign in Virginia. I also sort of wich I had created a scenario set in the mountains of North Carolina (I have a thing for hill and mountain country) but I thought that might come out a bit too much like Cold Mountain. I ended up re-writing most of the scenario in the last two weeks based on playtesting. I think the adventure is tighter now.

There's nothing to do now but wait for the feedback, at which point I'll probably be back into heavy-duty writing mode again. I'll keep you posted.